THE HON MARK DREYFUS KC MP
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
Review of Commonwealth secrecy offences
The Albanese Government has commenced a comprehensive and overdue review of Commonwealth secrecy offences.
In two unanimous and bipartisan reports, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) recommended that the former government conduct a review of all secrecy provisions in Commonwealth legislation. A particular concern of the PJCIS was whether existing legislation adequately protects public interest journalism.
Despite the former government agreeing to complete a review of secrecy offences in June 2018, and then again in December 2020, no review was ever completed.
Secrecy offences play an important role in circumstances where the unauthorised disclosure of Commonwealth information may cause harm to essential public interests, such as national security and the safety of the public. However, multiple reviews have raised concerns about the number, inconsistency, appropriateness and complexity of Commonwealth secrecy offences.
There are 11 general secrecy offences, 487 specific secrecy offences and over 200 non-disclosure duties in Commonwealth legislation. This review of Commonwealth secrecy offences is the first critical step to ensuring that these laws, which are designed to protect essential public interests, remain fit for purpose.
In response to a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide the review will specifically consider whether amendments are needed to protect individuals who provide information to Royal Commissions.
The Attorney-General’s Department will consult widely across government and civil society, including media organisations and legal experts, to ensure the review is informed by a broad range of expertise and perspectives.
An interim report will be completed by 31 January 2023.
The review’s final report will be delivered by 30 June 2023.
The terms of reference for the review are available at https://www.ag.gov.au/crime/publications/terms-reference-review-secrecy-provisions.
Thursday, 22 December 2022